Peacekeeper Helicopter Crashes in Afghanistan

A helicopter crashed in an industrial neighborhood of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least six German peacekeepers, a spokesman said.

Two children on the ground also died, said Kabul Police Chief Bashir Salangi. A seventh German peacekeeper aboard the helicopter was presumed dead, though his remains had not been found.

Five peacekeepers' bodies were found initially and a sixth later, Lt. Col. Andreas Steffan, spokesman for Dutch and German peacekeeping contingent, told The Associated Press in Kabul. A seventh man is missing and presumed dead.

"One is missing. We didn't find him. There were supposed to be seven crew members," Steffan said.

The German Defense Ministry said the helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53, belonged to its military.

There was no immediate information on the cause of the crash, although it was not fired upon, said British Maj. Gordon Mackenzie, a spokesman for the peacekeepers. There was smoke in the helicopter before it crashed, he said.

A witness reported seeing a fire on the helicopter before it crashed on the eastern edge of the Afghan capital, about a mile from the airport. Peacekeepers quickly cordoned off the area.

"I looked up and I saw a fire on the helicopter and then it turned onto its left side and crashed in among the buildings," said Mohammed Mousa, a worker in the area. He said it did not appear to him that the helicopter had been fired upon.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed "deep sorrow" over the crash.

"Even though everything indicates that this was a terrible accident, this accident makes it tragically clear . . . that the army's mission in Afghanistan is a difficult and dangerous operation," Schroeder said in a statement.

International peacekeepers quickly cordoned off the crash site, which is scattered with war-ruined factories where refugees live.

Kabul has been inundated with returning refugees. Poor and with few resources, they have taken up residence in hundreds of ruined homes, abandoned embassies and factories.

Kand Agha, a resident of the area, said he saw the bodies of two children underneath the wreckage.

The International Security Assistance Force has deployed 4,800 soldiers in Kabul to bring security to the war-ravaged city of 2.5 million people.

The crash came a day after Germany's Parliament voted overwhelmingly to extend the mandate of German troops in the Afghan security force for another year, doubling the country's troop contingent to 2,500. Germany and the Netherlands are expected to take command of the force next year.

The only previous German deaths among the peacekeeping force in Kabul occurred in March when two Germans and three Danish soldiers were killed as they disarmed two Soviet-era anti-aircraft missiles.

The Sikorsky CH-53, better known as the "Sea Stallion," is a transport helicopter in use since the 1960s. It can carry up to 38 people.